[By: Mary DeCamp]
On the Great March for Climate Action, I have adopted the role of scullery maid and thought some might be interested in what a typical day is like for me.
We start the day early – we awaken at 4:00 am when we will be marching for 15 or more miles. On the days the trek falls below 15 miles, we get to sleep in until 5:00 am. The summer heat is here now, and marching earlier spares us from those midday melting temperatures that make our walks so difficult. If we leave camp by 6:00 am and walk, then we can reach the next destination by early afternoon and rest in the shade when the sun sends its most intense heat.
Usually I help with the morning breakfast preparation. I crawl out of my tent, leash up my dog Birdie, and head for our eco-commode. We have a waterless, chemical-free latrine with four toilet stalls that we haul along with us. This system is great – a good alternative to flushing away potable water in times when the quality and quantity of water is an issue for so many of the communities we visit. But for it to work correctly, the users must separate out the solids and liquids. That means I either use a pee cup to catch urine, or I stand up and pee directly into the urinal and it trickles into a sealed tank that keeps the smell contained. Poop goes into the toilet where it is covered up with sawdust. As scullery maid, it is sometimes my job to participate with the latrine team in emptying out the “humanure” when we find a place to bury it. Some of the spots so far have included organic farms, national parks, a goji-berry farm, and fields. I hear it makes good compost!
After my morning ablutions, I head to the food truck where I loop Birdie’s leash over the tow ball so she can keep an eye on camp activity. I’ve found that when I am out of sight, she gets concerned and voices her distress by barking. And nobody wants to hear a barking dog in the pre-dawn last hour of sleep! So Birdie settles in under the U-Haul that we use to transport our food and cooking equipment. She grabs a little more shut-eye under there while I wash my hands and start the breakfast preparation.
Usually we have either oatmeal or granola and fruit for breakfast. The chef will direct me and another helper in what needs to be set out. There’s yogurt, milk, soymilk, coffee & tea fixings, fruit to be cut, leftovers, and all the lunch food. Water gets put onto the camp stoves right away so we have hot water for tea and more hot water to wash the dishes. Headlamps are very useful because they allow us to see what we are doing while our hands remain free. There’s a refrigerator in the food truck that is powered by our solar charger; it is temperamental, though, and some mornings the food has not been kept as cold as we expected.
We tote water in the food truck, too. We’ve got two 75-gallon tanks that we have to fill every other day or so. That requires us to find a water source, attach a filter, and coordinate between the person standing by the handle and another person who watches over the tank that is filling inside the truck. Taking on water is usually put off until after the marchers have left.
Once the breakfast and lunch food is set out, someone rings the bell to summon the campers. We also take turns on the morning wake-up call, walking among the many tents to announce it’s time to rise. Cold, wet mornings make it really tough to answer the summons – it’s so much more tempting to stay snug and dry in your sleeping bag – but arise we do, and meet another day.
Following breakfast, and after preparing and packing our lunches for the day, we drop the dirty dishes off for those on the cleanup crew to wash. Tents are packed up and stored along with our sleeping bags and other equipment on our gear truck. Each marcher is assigned a spot on the truck where his or her stuff gets stored for the ride to the next campsite. It’s been quite a challenge to keep everyone’s bags tidy and in its assigned spots. Our lost and found tub hosts a variety of items that didn’t make it to their designated spots. But each day we get all the gear onto the truck and strap it in with bungee cords in the hope it will all arrive securely instead of ending up in the aisle if the truck turns sharply or hits some bumps.
Another of my jobs is camp-scaping. That means I stay behind and search the area for anything that gets overlooked and left behind. We pick up any trash before we leave, always following the “leave it better than we found it” rule. With 30 people packing up each day, there is usually something that has been forgotten, and the camp-scapers pack it up to return to its owner.
Some days are food-shopping days. On those occasions, usually every third or fourth day, Birdie and I accompany Marie and/or Deb to the grocery to re-supply the March with groceries. We take along our own boxes and bags, trying to do a little to cut into the steady stream of trash we Americans generate. We try to buy local produce and to support organic producers. The checkout clerks are always impressed with the quantity of fresh fruits and vegetables that we pile onto their conveyor belts. I love these outings because it gives us a chance to interact directly with locals and to inform them about what we’re up to.
Other days we drive vehicles directly to the next site. We have the food truck, the gear truck towing the solar charger, a “sag” wagon that carries water and medical supplies to support marchers, another truck and trailer that carries tools and other odds and ends, and our eco-commode that is hauled behind another truck. As people come and go from the march, vehicles come and go, too, but these five are essential. Our logistics director has her own vehicle, too, so that makes a minimum of six gas-burning contraptions to support our efforts.
When we reach the next campsite, Birdie gets tied up again and I get to work on setting up camp. I set out two camp stoves and attach their propane tanks. I set up the four tables we cart around to hold the food and dishwashing station. If the weather is threatening rain, we set up a canopy over the food preparation area. The trashcan and recycle bins are set up. The kitchen truck is cleaned and put in order. The gear truck’s center aisle is emptied of the bikes or stroller or various bags that were stashed there. The new campground is picked up, or raked, or cleaned as needed. And, after washing my hands again and again, I often prepare a snack to greet the marchers when they arrive at our new “home” for the night.
Another crew assembles to help with the dinner preparation. Chefs rotate, so a different person will oversee the dinner each evening. We’ve got four or five people who coordinate meals, ensuring variety and hopefully forestalling burnout. Our diet on the march has been quite healthy, nutritious and delicious! We are less dependent on meat than most Americans, though we haven’t weaned ourselves from it yet.
Each day we set up our tents and create our little mobile bedrooms. Each campsite is unique. Some of the most memorable sites have been so because the sprinkler systems haven’t been disabled and we’ve been surprised by a middle-of-the-night drenching. Trains seem to be ever present, blowing their warning sirens as they enter the towns, carrying their loads of coal.
At sunset, a group gathers to sing the sundown song. There are often camp meetings to attend. I take Birdie for a walk each evening to explore the area and to give her a chance to smell all the new smells, so I sometimes skip out on the meetings. Birdie and I tuck into our tent, and sleep comes quickly to both of us.
There are lots of other odds and ends that must be addressed each day, but the basic structure remains the same. What a blessing to be able to participate and to have found a way to fit in and support raising awareness about climate change as we move across our country. Join on as a virtual marcher and enjoy this adventure with us.